Exile
by Taylor Swift (featuring Bon Iver)

Album: Folklore (2020)
Charted: 8 6

Songfacts®:

  • "Exile" is a heavy-hearted duet between Taylor Swift and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon. They portray former lovers who have a chance meeting during which they exchange differing points of view. The woman (Swift) is now seeing another man and the guy (Vernon) expresses his dismay at how quickly his she has moved on. The woman tells the guy she gave him numerous warning signs to change his behavior, which he didn't latch onto. Having stumbled across each other again, both of them feel sad that their union didn't work out and now are in "exile" from one another.
  • Swift recorded her singing for "Exile" in Los Angeles, while Vernon laid down his gruff vocals at his April Base Studios in rural Fall Creek, Wisconsin. The geographical divide between the two singers is appropriate.
  • Justin Vernon also co-wrote the delicate ballad with Swift and an unknown person named William Bowery. Swift later revealed in her Disney+ concert film Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions. William Bowery is none other than her boyfriend, Joe Alwyn.

    She explained that Alwyn wrote the "entire piano part" on "Exile" and originally sung the part of the duet that was eventually recorded by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon.

    "He was just singing it, the way that the whole first verse is," she said. "So I was entranced and asked if we could keep writing that one. It was pretty obvious that it should be a duet because he's got such a low voice and it sounded really good sung down there in that register."

    Swift has form for using pseudonyms (she was credited for her work on Calvin Harris' "This Is What You Came For" under the name Nils Sjöberg). A possible clue for Alwyn's moniker is he attended a Kings of Leon after-party at New York's Bowery Hotel during the early days of their romance. Also, Joe is the great-grandson of composer, conductor, and music teacher William Alwyn.
  • Bon Iver's soft rock/folk songs are a long way from Swift's pop material, and the song's producer Aaron Dessner is a member of The National, whose music is seen as arty rather than commercial. On the face of it, Bon Iver and Dessner are unlikely bedfellows for the country-turned-pop superstar. However, Folklore highlights a brand new side of Swift and is actually categorized under the "alternative" music genre on iTunes. Composed in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps we should not be surprised the songstress has opted for such a different sound.
  • So how did Taylor Swift end up collaborating with Bon Iver on the track? Aaron Dessner revealed to Pitchfork that William Bowery came up with the original demo, then Swift took his idea and ran with it. She sent it to The National band member as a voice memo singing both the male and female parts. Swift and Dessner discussed her potential duet partners and she told him how much she adores Justin Vernon's voice, and that he would "be so perfect."

    Dessner and Vernon are good friends, so he told Swift he'd ask him, but with the warning, "It depends on if he's inspired by the song but I know he thinks you're rad."

    Vernon did dig the song and wanted to contribute. As well as laying down his vocals, the Bon Iver mainman added the "so step right out" lyric to the bridge, a bit at the end and his choral parts.
  • Most of the songs on Folklore are third-person fictional narratives in contrast to Swift's previous albums that largely comprise personal confessions. She explained to Entertainment Weekly this was because early in quarantine, she started watching lots of movies. "Consuming other people's storytelling opened this portal in my imagination and made me feel like, Why have I never created characters and intersecting storylines?"

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